Jump to content

Blog- mcgpooh's Blog - The story so far

RSS Fetcher

Recommended Posts

Lower Ebb Railway Project

1991 In the beginning...


Loft 2/3 boarded out, I add power and light whilst rewiring the house, a man-size 4’ x 2’ hatch and fold out timber ladder is installed.


Work on OO gauge railway in loft begins, scale track plan of Midsomer Norton for S & D layout created manually on a photocopier from OS mapping, boards ¾ built and storage sidings side laid in Peco Code 100 flexible N/S track.


The Interregnum


No progress after illness stops work. Doubts over a steam based railway develop in my mind. The closure of our local model shop leads to purchase of two new Lima OO Class 20’s for £7.99 each and some pointwork.


The wilderness years...


Work, illness and family life put the thoughts of a model railway far from my mind; the loft gradually fills with accumulations of belongings, VHS player boxes, TV’s and the like.


The realisation


Standing on Hatfield railway station one morning, my eye for scale and level suggests real railway track is much bigger than it should be: Somewhat like Skynet’s growth to self-awareness, I come to appreciate OO gauge’s under-scale limitations. I visit a couple of model railway exhibitions and discover some “modern image” layouts which aren’t pastiches of a romanticised, non-existent by-gone era which I wasn’t even born in, let alone enjoyed. My recollections are of being disappointed that the Norwich to Birmingham New Street service is to be served by an ancient DMU instead of a four coach Class 31 hauled “train”; going on the East Midlands weekly rover (about £13 from memory) every day and annoying the Peterborough station staff by re-appearing at intervals during the day as we went back and forth to Doncaster (East Midlands?) for multiple Deltic hauled stopping service trains. And so I could go on. These were my memories; steam trains are beautiful but I don’t admire their soul like I do the throb of two Napier engines screaming at maximum revs shooting out clag and punching great big holes in the Ozone Layer.


The rebirth


My interest in modelling a railway grew stronger in recent years. I spent time in hospital in 2010 and studied a book of track plans, a bit obsessional about GWR branch lines but there were some nuggets in there for a man made in the 1980’s. “Modelling in the BR Era” and “Model Railway Planning & Design” were purchased and consumed with interest. I took particular note of Ken Gibbons work and discovered EM gauge. A nurse at the hospital (no a male one) passed me old copies of British Railway Modelling which was a hobby magazine come of age. I’d had a subscription to Railway Modeller in the 1970’s onwards rather than buying “The Beano” and vowed then to read non other but I soon discovered when I came back 25+ years later, I had changed but it hadn’t (at all).


BRM then tempted me with the emerging Heljan range of O gauge locomotives, the realism was compulsive. The sheer size, mass and detail in a manufactured model were stunning. I hankered long and hard over this but any layout I built would be tiny in O gauge terms and, for me, I don’t enjoy the drudgery of standing at an exhibition watching one man endless shunt a wagon or two back and forth for his own amusement, so why would I want to do this at home? I want to see speed and raw power reflected in miniature, that meant trains running at speed over distance and the only way to obtain that in O gauge is to have a successful career in the music business or pretend your wall flowers are trees in the garden; leaves on the line and any, let alone the wrong kind of snow permitting... Not to mention an average model eight coach train and locomotive are going to set you back £2500+ before you’ve laid an inch of track.


The seeds sown begin to germinate


I was resolved to change tack and move forward 25 years in my modelling aspirations, maybe there’d be a steam special every now and then but the 1980’s called me.


I did have some reservations about launching forth as a fair proportion of the “enthusiasts” I saw at exhibitions were badly dressed or had wild, unkempt hair or both. Others were rather eldery, nothing wrong with that –I just didn’t want to be classed in that age bracket quiet yet or more worryingly were, basically, “nutters”. A view reinforced by my teenage daughter but when did a teenager have a balanced view on the world?


The reading left me with the concern that although I have lived and breathed the railway in my chosen era, I actually knew relatively little about the detail having taken much at face value and not absorbed very much.


After the dalliance with O gauge I resolved that I will brave the unknown of EM gauge, hopefully the best compromise for 1:72 modelling which fits my life and circumstances best. Though the thought of mind-numbing tediousness of building track millimetre by millimetre fills me with dread and I’m no skilled engineer when it comes to a set of points. I see The EM Gauge Society and others do flexitrack- phew! That could have been a killer.


I then spend too long arm-chair modelling and dreaming up unfeasible plans for the 14’3” x 8’6” boards created for the layout already. I dip in to BRM in increasing frequency; I now know the issue date and “tut” when Smiths don’t have it out on the day (time for a subscription maybe?). My wife spearheads a major loft tidy up and spends 3 weeks in every spare minute and weekends emptying the loft (by now the area of the loft the layout is built in is no longer accessible by us except Joey the cat who likes to explore this man-made wilderness denied to his owners). I take 8 brim-full car loads of “stuff” to the dump, sorry, Household Recycling Centre. Five to the local charity shops who I feel are ready to display a “Closed” notice in their doors as they must surely recognise my car pulling up once again.


The loft is cleared. I am reunited with the retained parts my childhood model railway stock and divide it in to “keep” and “to go” boxes. The boards stand ready for action, cleared of the VHS recorder boxes whose sojourn with us outlived the actual devices by a decade or more.


Mistakes, I’ve made a few


The first thing I knew needed change were the baseboards. Not only were they incomplete but I had attempted realism by laying the long sides to falls to match the (as far as I recall it) 1:70-something gradient through Midsomer Norton. This was bonkers because whereas real railway vehicles have brakes, models do not; the result was that unattached wagons and coaches departed under their own gravity acquired momentum and rolled seamlessly to the bottom regardless of point settings. Secondly I had tried to be too resourceful in using some left-over tongue and groove cladding boards to form an open ladder frame to support the baseboard tops on one side, which would be the main scenic portion. Simply put this was too feeble. It took about 15 minutes to remove it. I levelled up the retained portions of board and prepared some new parts.


Progress Reports Going Forward


12-19 Oct; Re-levelled retained baseboard, put up extra light so I can see what I am doing at the far end of the roof. Bought timber and cut for new baseboard supports, assembled, annoyed myself with the low standards that my carpentry skills seem to have sunk to.


22 Oct; Visit to BRM Peterborough exhibition last weekend caused me angst as I waivered all day between EM and back to O gauge during the day. A Skytex 2 car dmu for £500 and an ex-demo Class 31 for £300 leave me sorely tempted. The old guys on the EM gauge stand waffle on about other things rather than answer my questions about the cost of readymade track cf self-assembly and ease of conversion of locomotives to EM. Still, the guy on the O Gauge Guild stand doesn’t even let me ask any questions, just wants me to lament over his workshop fire and the charred remnants of some steam loco’s he’s brought along in an ice cream tub... Howard Smith’s talk on building his first O Gauge layout is poorly attended but it ticked boxes for me. I spend a long time admiring Hillingdon MRC’s Grindley Brook O gauge layout in development. I am fascinated and appalled at the same time: It’s huge and the realism is fantastic but it has taken 6-8 guys or more 5-6 years to get to the stage of running a train on the layout, having said that they’ve hand built everything from track to stock. I come home with 3 books only, no models, a freebie from BRM on model railway history, BR diesel loco identification, Class 14 and above (great reference but lacks allocations and dates operational to be a complete source) and steal of the day “Making Tracks” railway modelling by design by Paul Lunn, reduced to £7.00 les 15% show day discount. This is very helpful in designing something which truly works but does come with a warning about randomly starting with building baseboards without a plan in place, oh dear...


Wavering yet again


Before I go any further I do a quick measure up to see what might work in the boards in O Gauge with 4’ radius curves (min recommended by O Gauge Guild on their website). I resolve;




1. Using O Gauge and starting off with ready to run stock and track would enable me to get going rapidly. I feel if I don’t reach a basic working status in a relatively short period of time, then history will repeat itself once again...


2. With size comes simplicity. There wouldn’t be space for more that 15-20 Yards of track and that means the track plan will be simple.


3. Bigger scale means less stock can physically be fitted in the space, in terms of a realistic representation in the space available.


4. Howard Smith’s comments: Second hand stock can be bought initially to get going at lower cost than new items. And what you’d spend on a larger 4mm collection would be compensated for less stock in 7mm


5. O gauge would provide the opportunity to get a layout up and running and looking fairly reasonable in a shorter period of time and then afford the opportunity for embellishment with more detail afterwards.


6. I definitely want to use sound and the excellent demonstration by DC Kits at the exhibition proved the superiority of sound in 7mm with its opportunity for bigger speakers. I ask for repeat performance of the O Gauge Deltic.




1. Gone would be the main line high speed running I craved to see. Maybe I’ll have to join a club like Hillingdon when they’ve made progress and I can blast a Deltic round their beautiful handmade track, if they’d let me.


2. Being content with more end to end operations with continuous running going to look daft.


3. Telling my wife I have changed my mind yet again having had various items bought me for the steam outline layout and more recently an OO gauge Class 105 DMU and the half a dozen second hand OO items I’ve bought on Ebay; brace of Hornby HST’s anybody?


4. BRM forum’s advice on O Gauge DMU’s seems to say avoid the Skytrex Class 101. There don’t seem to be any others being produced as a ready-made model currently. I did think it looked a bit basic when I dared to look closely at the Show.


The emerging design brief


i.   Scale: O Gauge

ii.  Period: Early to mid 1980’s

iii. Depiction: Urban with industrial overtones

iv. Points of interest: Evidence of decay and lack of investment in BR from those days and the (then) shrinking role of railways in C.20th life.

v. Model features: Down at heal local station, dead industry formally rail served, a canal, railway and road bridge showing transportation developments over the centuries, some freight interest, as much as the situation would allow and local passenger services by my former pet-hate, DMU’s.

vi. Inspirations: Lines around Birmingham New Street and the old Great Western line through all the Smethwicks to Worcester, which used to annoy me so much as my Dad and I travelled regularly from Leicester to Droitwich Spa. All to reflect the sense of wanting to see revitalisation of all the unused sidings and former rail facilities left for dead along the journeys made in the era.

vii. Modelling style: Composite Design (thanks to Paul Lunn, I now know what to call it)

viii. Name change from St Ebbs to Lower Ebb, now explained by the above.


Progress Update 29-10-13


The base boards in their original intention are basically complete. I have ignored detailed layout planning before building the new bits to avoid frame/ point motors etc clash. This is probably a mistake but I’ve spent several evenings working through sections of the O Gauge Guild Manual and a scale 1:20 plan trying to resolve my brief with the space available in to a workable simple plan. Due to the limited space this is trying to say the least. Taking up the laid OO gauge track feels a bit Beeching-esque.




Joining the O Gauge Guild is enormously helpful, the Manual on all things O Gauge, if a bit dated and old-school, comes in handy downloadable sections and I re-engage with O level Geometry needed to absorb and understand the track layout design requirements and recommendations. Reinforcing my previous ageist prejudice, I find my local group only meets on a Wednesday morning, presumably they’re all retired!


I am committed now (or probably should be) as I have taken delivery of a second hand Skytrex Class 31, twin motored locomotive in what I figure is early BR Rail Blue. After the comments and concern over the DMU I am worried that it isn’t going to be as good as I hope but to my untrained eye it looks pretty reasonable, it’s in good order and at £200, fair value I think. Maybe there’s a detailing kit I could have ago with later; DCC decoder and sound first. I can see it is inferior to Howard Smith’s kit built version I got to hold and admire at the BRM show but this is probably a DJH kit which is about £500 before you start.


On line research quickly finds the site http://www.railaroundbirmingham.co.uk/index.php which has an appealing Ronseal quality about; I ask for one of the author’s books in my forthcoming birthday list following instructions from the management to prepare one. Guided by this, its photo library and Google Earth I find Langley Green station and it’s now deceased link to a chemical works on the line to Kidderminster and Hereford. It’s main line but I consider it suitable for compression (a lot though). I discover some great pictures, even steam specials from the linked Severn Valley Railway and the opportunity to reflect a live location starts to bring design and detail opportunities I wouldn’t have thought about. At Langley Green there was a branch line formerly running to Oldbury Town, truncated and then still serving the Albright & Wilson chemical works, photos show mid-80’s freight trains of Classes 25, 31 & 37 hauling 4 wagon consists of a couple of tank wagons and box VAA wagons; ideal for my diminutive layout and freight operation. I feel more confident with the scheme as a whole as a result. I stop downloading pictures and accidently learning the history of Albright & Wilson as it’s 00.45 on a school night.


Track plan design development proves incredibly difficult, probably a lack of experience and my usual tendency to attempt to fit litre in to a decilitre pot shows through. Lots of pencil and rubbing out on my scale plan. In a moment of revelation, I resolve to use a double-slip, off stage for appropriate period track-work, bit of a pity as they cost so much and another cheat, a 3-way point in to the storage sidings to save on the mammoth 400+ mm of a medium radius turnout. My lack of experience in Ebay bidding means I miss out on some fairly decent looking second hand points, grrr.


As my birthday looms in to view I get to order some Peco Bullhead track, it’s labelled as “Universal” which sounds good as The O Gauge Guild manual offers about 6 different versions of the track. I sneak a peek at the pair of points to go with the track whilst my wife is out at work.


It’s now uncomfortably cold in the loft, my blower heater is okay when it’s not too cold or windy and I note the printed point plans I’ve downloaded and printed out feel a bit damp, this is not good news for climate sensitive equipment on a model railway. I research super-thin quilt type insulation as head room is not great and I’m forever banging my head on the rafters. Time to use a builder contact from my work to assist here.




The extended boards are now essentially complete; I just need to add a wider corner section to keep the flange-squealingly tight radius on the board on one side. Away for the weekend so no build progress but I am close to resolving the track plan as much as I know it now after an hours play trying to think laterally to make it work. I really could do with short radius turnouts for the chemical works siding but am struggling to find anything readymade.


Next time some pics after I've compressed them to follow the house rules.


View the full article

Link to post
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...